Monday 9 May 2016

Visit to University of Reading Special Collections Library

On Thursday 28th April, CILIP TV ran a visit to the Special Collections Department at the University of Reading. The following account of the trip has been very kindly supplied by Sophie Dorman:

 Our trip to the special collections at the University of Reading began with some of us having an informal chat while we waited for everybody to arrive. The different people in the tour group came from a wide variety of backgrounds and careers so it was really interesting listening to everyone’s different experiences.

Our guide for the event was Erika Delbecque, one of the librarians for the University Museums and Special Collections Services. The event began with a quick introduction and a tour of the building. The special collections service shares a building with the Museum of English Rural Life (which was unfortunately closed during our visit), and the building was originally a hall of residence for the students at the university. As such, it was not at all purpose built for a library, and it was very interesting to see how the staff had made the most of the space they had available. Our tour took us to the Reading Room and into a room which housed the Samuel Beckett collection. There were several other rooms which contained other collections as well. After the tour we sat down for a short talk about the service and the collections which can be found there.

The collection has many strengths, including children’s books, the history of publishing, and rare books about science and medicine. Erika explained that their collection development policy generally focussed on building on existing strengths rather than developing new ones. However, since the existing strengths already cover an extremely wide range of subjects the librarians find that very academically diverse groups of students and researchers make use of the service, and users are not limited to one or two areas of study. We also found out more about the acquisitions process, with many books being donated to the collection but others being especially picked out and purchased by the library. It was interesting hearing about the compromises that had to be made in order to house the special collections in the building, including how a separate area needed to be built in order to provide things like climate control for the preservation of rare books.

Photo courtesy of
Jeff Howarth TUC Library Collections

The highlight of the event for me was the showcase of some of the items in the collection. These included a 15th century printed book still with its original binding (and with contemporary notes written in the back!), one of the Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) books by University of Reading alumna Kathleen Hale, and a souvenir from the Great Exhibition. We had plenty of time to examine and ask questions about these items, and were even allowed to take photographs. Once the event had finished we also had the opportunity to have a look around the special collections’ Ex Libris exhibition, which concerned marks of ownership in rare books.

All in all it was a very rewarding trip, and I found it especially interesting as I have an interest in special collections but currently work in an environment which is very far removed from what we saw on the trip. A big thank you to Erika for being our guide and to Sonja for organising the event.

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